By David Bradshaw, My Idea Factory
Finding a soul mate that you feel a strong connection with at all levels (spiritual, emotional, intellectual, physical and relational) is a gift from above, which also may require some inner work. I like to call it ‘soul-dating’.
“True hotness lies within,” reports The Atlantic, “But how do you get someone to discover your inner hottie?” Scientific studies say that “wearing red, having a beard, and sharing a glass of wine could be a good start.” Perhaps, but I think having a peaceful, present and loving soul just might be the real keys.
For singles seeking a soul mate with a strong spiritual connection, you might want to consider starting off with a “sacred friendship,” based upon shared life purposes and goals. Open communication about spiritual experiences flow naturally in an environment of mutual acceptance.
“A key to blending friendship with romance is to take the time to explore each other’s interests and then share in them,” write Gary and Norma Smalley in their 1989 bestselling book, “It Takes Two to Tango.”
I believe friendship is square one in ‘soul dating’. This takes an investment of time and willingness to listen to our heart — as well as our mind and body. Investing time together helps relationships to grow and allows for the mirroring of unconditional love back and forth to each other.
Perhaps the biggest challenge is finding a soul mate who is on a compatible spiritual growth path — a partner who embraces inclusive spirituality more than exclusive religion —who is open to letting go of their early, and often static belief systems, to move onward to more mature spiritual consciousness.
Bestselling author and Franciscan teacher Richard Rohr puts it this way, “Most people can only grasp 1 or 2 levels of consciousness — or spiritual growth stages — beyond where they are presently at.”
Understanding this reality could save a lot of time, effort and heartbreak when seeking a spiritually compatible soul mate.
If you are a patient soul, you may be able to help your partner bridge a wider spiritual gap, however be aware that serving as a spiritual “bridge” requires a humble willingness to have your ego walked on a bit in the process.
Richard Rohr, who derives much wisdom and inspiration from the life of St. Francis of Assisi, offers an excellent resource to help partners determine what spiritual stage they may presently be at in his audio book, “The Art of Letting Go: Living the Wisdom of Saint Francis”.
Rohr describes “Nine Stages of Spiritual Growth” in simple, non-technical terms. He stresses that the more advanced (or evolved) levels of spiritual consciousness must always include all of the previous levels, rather than excluding them, which may require deep compassion and patience.
Rohr emphasizes that progressive spiritual growth usually requires some type of a loss at each new successive stage of consciousness, which usually serves to prod us onward. This “art of letting go” helps us move to further stages.
Our journey toward enlightenment and learning the art of gracefully letting go means we embrace “Falling Upward” — which is the title of his 2013 bestselling book on growing up spiritually in the second half of life.
9 Stages of Spiritual Growth
Below is my humble, short summary of Rohr’s ‘Nine Stages of Spiritual Growth’ and moving toward a more mature perspective on life and love.
1.”My body is who I am” — This is our starting point as a child… it is the level of sex and survival… the priority is pleasure and security. It is a necessary stage, but sadly some people get stuck at this stage for a lifetime.
2. “My external behavior is who I am” — Our identity is focused on rituals, and badges which are important at this stage. The goal is to look good to others. We become practiced at hiding and denying our shadow self. An example would be the extreme far-right wing, which live mostly in dualistic, (tribal) thinking and a ‘win-lose’ worldview. Protecting boundaries and identities is important. It is the eventual disappointment which leads to further progress.
3. “My thoughts and my feelings are who I am” — Those at this stage may be learned, but they are still very egocentric, viewing education as a substitute for transformation, and strong individualism makes it hard to work together. An example would be ‘limousine liberals’, who embrace symbolism without substance. Rohr believes this stage is where the U.S. and most of Europe is presently at and will require a major personal loss of some kind to move forward.
4. “My deeper intuition, felt knowledge in my body is who I am” — At this stage we begin to think ‘contemplatively’, slowly gaining the ability to embrace paradox, making a discovery of ‘soul’ within us and within everything else. This is a very alluring stage, but it is also tempting to stay at this stage and become self-absorbed. Stage four is an important breakthrough, but it still lacks an outflow of love for the Creator and the other.
5. “My shadow self is who I am” — This stage begins our personal ‘dark night of the soul’, we start discerning our True Self and reality. We find a cause worth dying for, a growing care for others, love for God and our neighbor. We practice “shadow boxing,” “walking our talk”. This stage can last a long time as we begin to embrace unconditional love and grow more accustomed to living with contradiction. It is inside the darkness that we find the true light.
6. “My plan is useless, I am empty and powerless to save myself” — At this stage we finally give up on our own plans and instead ask, wait and trust our loving Creator for a spiritual breakthrough. We face the reality that when we can’t change our circumstances we must instead allow God to use the circumstances to change us. We learn how to sit in quiet meditation and draw upon a new Source. We move from religion to spirituality. In Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) it is considered the first stage of true transformation. It is an ‘identity transplant’ toward ‘unitive thinking’ and true spirituality.
7. “I am so much more than I thought I was” — At this stage the false self has significantly died and our True self begins taking over more continuously. We learn the freedom and joy of living in the present moment, of engaging in pure action, and that Another is holding me, so I don’t need to hold myself.
8. “I am at home being led by grace” — This stage is not a 24/7 state, it comes and goes. John 10:30; “I and the Father are one”. We begin living in communion with our Creator. “One knows God in one’s self and one knows one’s self in God.” -Teresa of Avila. An inner knowing develops. You find your soul, and understand you are much more than your body. Mystical experiences and a unitive (vs. dualistic) worldview grows.
9. “I am who I am, I have let go of all attachment to myself” — This is the final stage of surrender. I am willing to become, like St. Francis and all the great spiritual mystics in history, “the holy fool” without any pretense. I can be who I am. I am fully present. I can now see God in everyone and everything. There is no need to impress anyone, I delight in being transparent and practicing non-dual thinking and living. My focus is on serving and loving others. I am becoming child-like. I can love my enemies.
As I have reflected on these nine stages of spiritual growth, I realized that although on any given day I may fluctuate between several levels, but my trajectory is set on learning the art of letting go at little more each day.
In the realm of ‘soul dating’ this translates into making the counter-intuitive decision to also ‘let go’ of my striving to find a soul mate — and instead focus more on becoming a fully present person — and then watching and waiting for the desires of my heart to arrive with perfect timing.
“When we believe there is another person who can make us whole, we are ineffectually calling ourselves ‘incomplete’, writes Raven Fon in Soul Mates Are Actually Our Soul Mirrors. “We have the power within ourselves to achieve that oneness; we really mustn’t try to find the answers to our problems in another… their role in your life is to be a mirror — not a glue.”
I like that. We all need at least one very special person in our life willing to serve as a loving mirror of our True self — and it is wonderful if that person also turns out to be our soul mate for a season … or perhaps even for life!
Richard Rohr’s overview of the major stages of spiritual development and letting go helped me to confirm the characteristics of the soul mate that I seek to become and to mirror back. If this story has been helpful, please pass it on.
P.S. I recently stumbled upon a book on this subject which I found very inspiring; ‘If the Buddha Dated: A Handbook for Finding Love on a Spiritual Path’ by Dr. Charlotte Kasl. This helpful volume draws great wisdom from Christian, Buddhist, Sufi and other spiritual traditions and offers uncommon tips on finding a spiritual partner for your journey — without losing yourself.